Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

Glitch in System Upgrade

Visa Processing Picks up
After Hardware Failure to Database

Visa processing has improved markedly over the past few years, thanks to considerable efforts by the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Visa Waiver Program.

Still, meeting professionals had to shudder when a government database responsible for storing visa biometric data, among other data, suffered hardware failures in June, as it worked to upgrade its systems and migrate data onto new hardware. That prevented the Department of State from processing and transmitting biometric data checks at visa-issuing embassies and consulates. Between June 9 and June 19, 335,000 visas that ordinarily would have been printed were stuck in clearance. But “there is no evidence the problem was cybersecurity-related,” stated Niles Cole, spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs. And the Visa Waiver Program — which allows citizens of 38 participating countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of 90 days or less once they meet certain requirements — was not affected.

The bureau handles an average of 50,000 applications daily worldwide, so the system outage created immediate processing delays. “We cannot bypass the legal requirements to screen visa applicants before we issue visas for travel,” Cole added. “Each visa decision is a national security decision, and we take our obligation to protect the United States seriously.”

According to Cole, consular staff worked through the last weekend in June to diminish the backlog, clearing 410,000 nonimmigrant visas between June 21 and 29. Many posts that issue visas rescheduled interviews, adding capacity to accommodate applicants. Visas are critical to the Obama administration’s goal of increasing international arrivals and travel-related jobs in the U.S. The economic impact of these visitors in 2014 was $222 billion; the goal is for 100 million international visitors to spend $250 billion annually here by the end of 2021.

As of July 20, all visa-issuing embassies and consulates were back online scheduling visa interviews and issuing nonimmigrant visas.

New Security Criteria in Visa Waiver Program. On August 6, the Department of Homeland Security announced new security requirements for VWP countries: (1) Travelers within the program must use e-passports; (2) Participating countries must use the INTERPOL Lost and Stolen Passport Database to screen travelers crossing their borders; (3) Permission for expanded use of U.S. federal air marshals on international flights from visa waiver countries to the United States.

Visa Waiver Proposed for Brazil. U.S. Travel Association urged President Obama to discuss expanding the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Global Entry Program to Brazil during meetings with Brazil President Dilma Rousseff. This would attract nearly 650,000 additional annual visitors to the United States and generate an additional $7.6 billion for the U.S. economy, bringing total international visitation and economic output to more than 3 million and $35.4 billion, respectively, in 2015, according to U.S. Travel.

Mobile Passport Control App. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has extended the pilot program for this app — which provides a faster and more secure way to move U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors through customs entry — to five airports. Chicago O’Hare, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle-Tacoma airports join Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, which debuted the app a year ago. CBP said that more airports will be added in 2015 and 2016. — Maxine Golding

 

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